Shellshocked GOP donors give Trump a second look

Shellshocked GOP donors give Trump a second look
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Shellshocked Republican donors are giving Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE a second look now that he’s the party's presumptive presidential nominee.

Rockwell Schnabel, an influential Republican donor from California, is the perfect example.

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Schnabel said he is deeply skeptical of Trump — but he feels even worse about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Manafort sought to hurt Clinton 2016 campaign efforts in key states: NYT MORE.

“As the nominee, at some point I would support him, and yes that would mean ultimately financially as well,” Schnabel told The Hill a day after Trump became his party’s presumptive nominee.

Schnabel, who previously maxed out to Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE's and Jeb Bush's presidential campaigns, said he has a conversation scheduled next week with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to figure out how he can be helpful to the general election effort.

Trump has so far largely self-funded his campaign with loans totaling more than $36 million, but indicated Wednesday he would seek outside money for a general election battle expected to cost more than $1 billion on each side.

That means it is crucial for the real estate mogul to win over big money donors — and for those GOP millionaires and billionaires to warm to their party’s new leader.

Stanley Hubbard is a billionaire media mogul from Minnesota who has given to nearly every Republican presidential contender this year. There is one exception: Trump.

Hubbard even gave $10,000 to the “Never Trump” group Our Principles PAC.

Yet faced with a decision between Trump and Clinton, Hubbard said he’s ready to take his checkbook out for the Donald.

“She’s a tool of the union bosses and left-wing fruitcakes, believers of global warming, and that’s more scary,” Hubbard told The Hill on Wednesday.

Hubbard even said he’d give Trump more money than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney “because it’s going to be a tougher climb” with Trump.

To be sure, Trump has a lot of work to do to earn the support of the Republican donor class. 

He’s built no fundraising structure and has offended many of the party’s wealthiest donors. He’s boasted at rallies and in commercials that he’s not controlled by “special interests,” and in some cases has told donors to their faces that he doesn’t want their money.

Many GOP donors also distrust Trump, who has taken policy positions at odds with Republican orthodoxy, and who himself has donated to Hillary and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Harris lead Trump in Georgia: Poll Keep your eye on essential facts in the unfolding impeachment circus MORE.

Just last summer, Schnabel attended a lunch with other powerful GOP donors at the Hotel Bel-Air in Beverly Hills where, a source told The Hill, they engaged in a hypothetical question: “If it was Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton, who would you vote for?”

Most put their hands up for Clinton.

Schnabel has disputed the account, but clearly had deep reservations about Trump when The Hill contacted him to verify the story last year. He’s still concerned, and admits that he will have to answer to his wife and children before going all in for Trump. 

Though Hubbard says he is willing to give money to the billionaire candidate, he also says he is “still hoping for a miracle” that Trump will not be the GOP’s nominee.

“You never know … Something could happen that could throw him off track. Something in his personal life,” he said. “So until he’s the nominee I won’t be giving any money.”

Art Pope, a wealthy North Carolina businessman and one of the most influential figures in that state’s Republican Party, told The Hill that he can’t see himself helping Trump but is so adamantly opposed to Clinton that he’s not prepared to rule it out.

“There’s no way I could answer that question. ... It would be a very hard road to hoe,” Pope said. “I disagree with Mr. Trump on so many of the policies he’s espoused ... I couldn’t even begin to give a list of the things he would need to change to get me to support him.

“But you asked me if it’s possible. And yes it’s possible,” said Pope, who previously supported Rubio’s presidential campaign.

Some wealthy Republicans will probably never come over to Trump, but they might be a smaller group than commonly imagined. 

Trump will likely never see a penny from the GOP heavyweights such as New York hedge fund manager Paul Singer; the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs; and Randy Kendrick, the wife of the Arizona Diamondbacks owner.

The network of some 700 conservative donors led by billionaires Charles and David Koch has a $900 million budget for 2016, but network leaders including Charles Koch have signaled distress over Trump’s tone and are not expected to provide any support for his campaign. 

Other groups, such as American Crossroads, which was founded by GOP operative Karl Rove, are less dogmatic and view defeating Clinton as the goal that overwhelms all others.

“Until last night American Crossroads remained strictly neutral throughout the Republican primary season,” said Ian Prior, communications director of American Crossroads, in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday.

“Now we begin task of evaluating options with regard to what is likely to be a very competitive general election.”

Fred Malek, the finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association, argues donors will come to Trump if he makes an effort.

“It will be critical for Trump to be more inclusive, empathetic, and accepting of others to earn the support of many top GOP donors," he said. "Most want fervently to change the leftward lurch our country has taken over the past seven years." 

There is also a large group of Republican donors who abide by a strict set of ideological principles in deciding who to give to.

Chart Westcott, a Texas businessman who gave $200,000 to Scott Walker’s presidential super-PAC and then supported Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement Trump holds chummy meeting with Turkey's Erdoğan Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Erdoğan at White House | Says Turkish leader has 'great relationship with the Kurds' | Highlights from first public impeachment hearing MORE after Walker dropped out, told The Hill that he can’t imagine backing Trump, describing his ideas as authoritarian, unworkable and ruinous for the economy.

When pushed, however, to imagining President Clinton controlling the Supreme Court, Westcott said, “I have an open mind. It would be possible for Donald Trump to earn my support.”

Westcott paused and sighed deeply.

“But man,” he said. “He would have to do a lot of proving to me. That he’s not going to shut down a sector of the economy or someone’s company because they disagree with him.

“That kind of authoritarianism is just bad. It’s no way to run a country.”